Monday, January 28, 2013

Short Stories in the Classroom

I feel very fortunate to have many students who love to read. On a team of over 100 sixth grade students, I would guess that about 80% of them would read all day if they could. I've worked hard as the reading teacher on the team to inspire "reading magic" in my room, create a fun and interesting classroom library, and build time for pleasure reading into each and every school day (and now my team teachers do the same). Our students always have SSR books with them. During homeroom, my classroom library is a happening place for any of the 100 kiddos who wish to visit. I'll share more about how my classroom library functions in an upcoming post.

I have to be honest with myself, though, and admit that most students can not acquire necessary reading skills by pleasure reading alone. As an avid reader myself since childhood, it sometimes pains me to break down a story and tackle each skill. There's always a part of me that wants them to "just enjoy the beauty" of every story we read (and sometimes, we do just that). That's the reader part of me. The teacher part of me, though, knows that the benefit of direct reading instruction is undeniable. Even in sixth grade, it's still really needed. I've been a witness to its positive effect on my students' comprehension, appreciation of literature, and standardized test score performance (as well as growth reflected in other data points including benchmark tests, etc.) over the course of the year in sixth grade.

I taught English for so many years that it fit like a glove. When I was asked to teach reading again for the first time in several years, I had to figure out a way to organize the new curriculum that would "make sense"- both to me and my students. There are so many skills to cover, and each skill can be taught in so many different ways. I had to develop some kind of road map that I would feel comfortable following. Although the literature textbook suggests that certain skills be covered while reading specific selections, I would often find myself thinking things like, "This would be perfect for teaching cause and effect," etc. even though the teacher's edition didn't suggest that. I have to admit that I've never been one to follow the teacher's edition.

I sat down with the curriculum guide and the standards and created a checklist of everything I needed to cover in reading for the year. Then I chose all of the selections from the literature textbook that would lend themselves well to the skills. I then created a comprehension packet for each fiction and nonfiction piece (I do poetry a bit differently) that included everything I would like to cover while using that piece. Each packet has its own activities and format.

I'd like to share some completed pages to show how I use this method while teaching one of the short stories in our text. The story "Stray" by Cynthia Rylant is basically about a young girl who finds and bonds with a stray dog despite her parents' insistence that the dog must be taken to the pound when the weather clears.

I start out most of my short stories by using my "Story Suitcase." The top suitcase opens up and there is storage inside. Sometimes I put clues to the setting in the box and ask, "Where will reading take us today?" For "Stray," I used the suitcase to inspire students to predict what the story might be about. I included a dog collar, a paper snowflake, a red heart, and a dollar bill. Each of these items symbolically represents something in the story. Students wrote their predictions in the first section of the packet and we discussed their thoughts. It was amazing how many creative predictions came out of just seeing those four items.

I always include a section to help students activate background knowledge as well before we read.
On the next page, I included new vocabulary I wanted the students to know before reading. We used context clues to identify the meanings of the words.

For "Stray," one of the skills I decided to focus on was using the active reading strategies. We had already covered the strategies and how to use them, and they are posted on my classroom wall (along with the "reading bugs" which serve as part of our mnemonic device). 
I included a chart to review the strategies and students drew each strategy's reading bug as well.
When students independently read the story silently, they used a chart in the comprehension packet to record the strategies as they used them. Students also completed comprehension questions at the end of the story.
After class discussion, we continued on to a group activity. Students reread the story in small groups and identified character traits using supporting evidence from the text. They had wonderful conversations as they completed this chart, and I was very impressed with their answers.
I always like to include a page called "Author in the Spotlight." Sometimes this page is at the front and sometimes it is at the end, but I feel it's important. I also feature the author in my Book Nook while we are covering the story.
For "Stray," I decided to use a biography entitled Cynthia Rylant (Library of Author Biographies) by Alice B. McGintyI shared selected passages with the students and had them record interesting facts about the author.

I then used Cynthia's book Every Living Thing. If you don't have this book, you should check it out! It contains fictional short stories with a common theme of animals that change people's lives. Many of the stories in it are great read alouds in the upper elementary grades where (be still my happy heart) most kiddos love animals. "Stray" is one of the short stories from this book. 

I chose the short story "Slower Than the Rest" for a read aloud. As I read the story, students listed similarities between the story and "Stray." I think it's valuable to share multiple pieces by the same author. This way, students can really get a feel for whether or not they like each author's style. Many students wanted to check out Cynthia's biography, Every Living Thing, The Van Gogh Cafe and other books by Cynthia in my library by the time we had finished. They are still being checked out now!
One of the great things about the packet is that you have one place for students to record all notes over the duration of the story. In addition, the packet serves as a great study guide prior to a test or quiz at the end.  Naturally, the packet varies depending on the reading selection. I have incorporated music, slide shows, DVD's, video clips, and other tools into the packet completion. The possibilities are endless!

I really feel that using this method helps my students stay organized and focused, and it lets them see how we can use the skills learned in class when we read. I feel my students really connect to each story using this method and ENJOY the story even though we have broken it down. I hope you can take away even one small idea from this that you can make your own and use in your classroom.

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Happy teaching, friends! 

23 comments:

  1. I love your "Active Reading Strategies" graphic organizer. I am definitely going to start using that! I use the book "Every Living Thing" a lot in my intervention groups. I also use a lot of great short stories from Highlights. http://www.highlightsteachers.com/teachers-toolbox/print-and-read-stories-and-poems.

    Amy
    Eclectic Educating

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Amy. I think identifying reading strategies on an organizer as they read really helped my kiddos. I started out smaller for some groups (I have varying ability levels from advanced to special education/inclusion). For some of the students, I started with just one or two strategies at a time, and now they are able to use all of the strategies as they read...and are AWARE that they are using them. That makes me happy!

      I LOVE the book Every Living Thing. I also love the story "Retired." Maybe that is because it's about a former teacher. :) I am going to check out the Highlights link you shared. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  2. HOLY AMAZING POST!
    You are such a fantastic teacher. I wish I could come and observe you for a few days so I could learn more of your amazing tricks! I love all of these ideas (especially the suitcases). Thanks for sharing this, I needed some inspiration today...
    -Mr. Hughes
    An Educator's Life

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    1. Oh, you are too kind! That would be awesome if you could come visit my room. We could co-teach some lessons! I think we would have a blast!

      Hope tomorrow is full to the brim with inspiration...

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  3. Thanks for sharing this post. I found myself nodding my head as I read, but what's wonderful is that you do things just a little differently than I do - so I walked away with some great ideas! Good stuff!
    Marion
    www.mentoringinthemiddle.blogspot.com

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    1. I think the best kind of validation we can have as educators is from each other, so I LOVE that you said you were nodding your head as you read my post. :) I am happy you also found some new ideas to take away with you.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for leaving a comment. It is much appreciated!

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  4. Great stuff! I am going to have to reread it to soak it all in! Wouldn't it be fun for all of us to teach together! :)

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    1. Thanks!

      It really would be fun if we all taught together. I think we'd laugh a lot! :)

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  5. This all makes so much sense and is organized in a way that is kid friendly. It also is eye-catcing without being over-the-top distracting. Nice!

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment. That's always my goal when teaching! I try to make things kid friendly and fun while still hitting what I need to hit in an organized way.

      I really appreciate your comment. Thanks so much for stopping by All Things Upper Elementary. :)

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  6. I love this!!! I have an old suitcase of my dad's that would be PERFECT! When I went to your TPT site to purchase this lovely pack, it was missing in action. Help!!

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    1. Hi, Kelly!

      I think an old suitcase would definitely be perfect! They definitely have a lot of character. I bought the travel stickers at Pier One Imports years ago, and I feel like they add a lot to the vibe. There are places online to order vintage travel stickers (I think Etsy has some sellers). Maybe your dad's suitcase even has stickers already!

      I do not currently have the "Stray" packet for sale at my shop. I didn't think many people would be interested in it since it is story specific and includes the skills I chose for the story. No worries, though! Send me an email at peanut_gallery_3@yahoo.com. I'd be glad to help you out.

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  7. Yeah, teacher's manuals and I don't really get along too well either ;)

    I love how you use concrete objects to draw kids into the story as a pre-reading activity! I might try this for social studies now that we are about to get into the Southwest Region. Thanks for the idea. Also, I just have to say that your post looks amazing! The graphics are so put together. :)

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    1. I think this would work perfectly for social studies! Great idea!

      Thanks for the kind words on my post. They are much appreciated. :)

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  8. Just put the book you mentioned on my ever growing book wish list. I love Cynthia Rylant.

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    1. Yay! I think you will like it. Many of the stories would work really well for upper elementary kiddos. I love Cynthia, too!

      I also know what you mean about your ever growing book wish list. I have one that keeps growing myself! I am adding some great new books just from blog posts shared by others here. :)

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  9. I absolutely LOVE your ideas. I think it's so important to teach students those active reading strategies. It makes such a difference! I've noticed that even something so simple as visualizing the story helps those struggling readers. I remember an activity I did once in which I had students draw a picture after listening to a short paragraph I read to them. It was then that I noticed that my higher readers had included many details mentioned in the paragraph, whereas my strugglers barely had anything on the page. So I think your organizers are fantastic. They're concise yet so effective.
    Thanks for sharing,
    :0) Melissa

    More Time 2 Teach

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    1. Thanks so much, Melissa! I often find that my struggling readers have great imaginations and can visualize things well when it doesn't involve schoolwork. I think sometimes they just don't know what switches in their brains are supposed to be turned on when reading. Using the reading strategies (and practicing HOW to do that in class) really helps them to turn those switches on by themselves when reading independently. :)

      Thanks so much for your feedback and kind words! They mean a lot to me!

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  10. I am trying to purchase this set on teachers pay teachers and can not find it. Is it still for sale?

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    1. Thanks so much for your interest! This exact set was not a product for sale, but I did create one afterward that was very similar and could be used for all short stories. You can find it here:

      http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Short-Story-Sleuths-A-ComprehensionReading-Skills-Packet-793232

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  11. Do you have your "Stray" comprehension packet available for purchase or download?

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    1. Hi there! I have a generic packet that could be used with any short story here:

      http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Short-Story-Sleuths-A-ComprehensionReading-Skills-Packet-793232

      Thanks for your interest!

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